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The Wall: Rome's Greatest Frontier by…

The Wall: Rome's Greatest Frontier (original 2008; edition 2009)

by Alistair Moffat

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513229,653 (3.75)None
Title:The Wall: Rome's Greatest Frontier
Authors:Alistair Moffat
Info:Birlinn Ltd (2009), Paperback, 270 pages
Tags:history, rome, northumberland, cumbria, uk

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The Wall: Rome's Greatest Frontier by Alistair Moffat (2008)



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A very informative and readable book, covering much more than just the construction and purpose of Hadrian’s Wall in what is now England, but also a lot of history about Rome and Roman Britain to put this in context. For example: “The historical reality must be different. The truth is that the Romans found Britain impossible to conquer entirely. What they did hold was held with some considerable initial difficulty, and when Hadrian’s Wall was built its primary military meaning must have been as a huge reaction to real and persistent problems in northern Britannia. For most of the 350-year life of the province, a tenth of the whole Roman imperial army was stationed in that part of the island they were able to control. First-rate generals were usually appointed as governors. Such close policing by very large numbers of expensive legionaries and their commanders would not have been required for ‘gormless’ drabs. Determined, independent-minded, well organised and consistently courageous are much more apt adjectives. The difficulty is, however, glaringly obvious. Only Roman reactions to British actions survive in the historical record. The British barbarians have left little or no sense of what life was like under Roman rule, or of their successful resistance to it in the north. The impact of Hadrian’s Wall can only be surmised. Memory turns out to be much more fragile even than flaking, crumbling papyrus.”

There is interesting information about the construction and life on and around Hadrian’s Wall. But as Moffatt is the author of a number of other books about Scotland and early Britain, this knowledge finds its way into this book as nuggets of everyday detail which remind you just how different life was, but also how there are still connections, such as the following regarding footwear “Holes were deliberately punched through the uppers to allow water to squelch out. Boots were designed to protect the feet from sharp stones and worse, but not to keep them dry. Waterproof footwear for soldiers is a recent invention. The Highland army which crossed Hadrian’s Wall in 1746 wore very similar shoes. The Gaels called them brogan. Changed only a little into brogues, the principal design feature of these modern shoes is the tooling on the uppers which resembles half-cut holes.”

Although it might appear self-evident to some, there is also analysis such as Moffatt’s comment that “Although it never marked a cultural frontier, or the line along which the border between England and Scotland would eventually run, Hadrian’s Wall nevertheless had an important early role in creating an idea of the north of Britain.”

The book also has a final chapter about visiting the Wall, which was useful for me as I read it shortly before visiting the Wall and Vindolanda (an excellent “working” museum) and a short bibliography (which has the common failing for me of not providing some brief comment from the author as to why in particular the books referred to were useful).

This is not an academic history book, but one for the interested general reader, so whilst the background about Rome and Roman Britain may be too brief for an academic work, for me it fulfilled its purpose admirably in explaining the creation, running and demise of the Wall as well as reminding me of the historic background. ( )
  CarltonC | Aug 6, 2016 |
There are plenty of good books out there on Hadrian's Wall, and the author here doesnt have too much new to add, but its a solid piece of writing geared to the non-expert. A useful book to read if you're planning to visit the Wall, gives the essential background plus tourist information. Recommended. ( )
  drmaf | Sep 9, 2013 |
The Wall is a really good book about Roman influence in Britain in general. It doesn't just talk about that most famous wall, Hadrian's Wall, but it also discusses the Antonine Wall and even references other frontiers that Hadrian created. It deals with the whole period of Roman occupation of Britain, beginning with Julius Caesar and ending with the fall of the Empire. It deals with how various different emperors saw Britain, and touches on the politics in Rome that informed that.

It's detailed but still readable, and Moffat's genuine enthusiasm for the subject shows. Rather than fill the book with footnotes, he's put non-essential-but-relevant information in boxes, to clearly separate it while keeping it handy. There's a section of photographs of the Wall, and the final chapter has suggestions about tourist attractions along it.

It didn't tell me much that I wasn't already vaguely aware of, really, from years of Classics lessons and reading Rosemary Sutcliff, but it was satisfying to get clearer pictures, and to read about the real events that inspired her books (like Carausius and Allectus, in The Silver Branch). ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
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"Hadrian's Wall is the largest, most spectacular and one of the most enigmatic historical monuments in Britain. Nothing else approaches its vast scale: a land wall running 73 miles from east to west and a sea wall stretching at least 26 miles down the Cumbrian coast." "Built in a ten-year period by more than 30,000 soldiers and labourers at the behest of an extraordinary emperor, the Wall consisted of more than 24 million stones, giving it a mass greater than all the Egyptian pyramids put together. At least a million people visit Hadrian's Wall each year and it has been designated a World Heritage Site." "In this new book, based on literary and historical sources as well as the latest archaeological research, Alistair Moffat considers who built the Wall, how it was built, why it was built and how it affected the native peoples who lived in its mighty shadow."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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